December 7, 2020

How to run a successful steering committee

A steering committee is only as good as its meetings – here are some simple suggestions to make the most of your members’ time.

Life science projects involve critical decisions that not only affect stakeholders inside and outside the organization but potentially the lives of patients around the world. For this reason – not to mention the imperatives of staying on time and within project budget – many pharmaceutical and medical device organizations use steering committees to keep these projects on track.

The guidance of steering committees can be a big advantage when it comes to meeting the needs of multiple stakeholders and resolving issues in a timely manner – but only if the steering committee is well-run and follows through on its commitment to the project at hand. Once you understand what a steering committee is, it’s time to learn some steering committee best practices for successful meetings and better outcomes.

How do you manage a steering committee?

When it comes to who should be on a steering committee, your steering committee structure should include people who can be effective stewards of the project. In other words, people with enough authority and influence to create a sense of urgency or cut the so-called red tape that exists within large organizations or complex projects with many stakeholders. These members should also be comfortable with taking responsibility if things get off track, don’t go to plan, or miss important deadlines.

The steering committee structure should also allow steering committee members to be responsive to requests for help from the project they are overseeing. If there are tactical issues that rise to the level of the steering committee, the members need to be able to take action, even if they are not necessarily scheduled to meet anytime soon. Ultimately, the success of the project depends on their ability to troubleshoot and if necessary move mountains to see things over the finish line.

What are some tips for running a steering committee meeting?

Ensuring the health of a steering committee is another important responsibility. An easy way to do this is to respect each steering committee member’s time by using these best practices.

  1. Create an agenda. Put simply, don’t schedule your steering committee to meet unless you have an agenda and can clearly state the objectives of the meeting. While it’s good for steering committees to meet on a regular basis, nobody wants to attend a meeting with no agenda and no goals.

    When you share the agenda – ideally, well in advance of the meeting – you should invite, and answer, questions from the committee members. This will save time during the meeting.

  2. Don’t get lost in small details. Your steering committee members have many other responsibilities and likely don’t need to understand every last detail of the project you are steering. Instead, help them understand the big picture: project budget, progress, potential problems, and anything that needs to be decided in the meeting.

    Steering committee meetings are important because they provide an opportunity where all of the project decision-makers are together – and you have their attention. Make the most of their time by providing what they need to make decisions and move the project forward.

  3. Confirm the results of the meeting before adjourning. Use the time at the end of the meeting to briefly recap what was discussed, allow the chance for further input and discussion, and highlight any unresolved issues.

    This will help you determine whether or not the meeting was productive and helps reinforce the results for other committee members.

  4. Understand the committee’s personality. Different committees will have different styles when it comes to discussion and decision-making. In some committees, a clear leader will emerge and others may be happy to follow along. In others, people may be more concerned about getting agreement and buy-in from every single member.

    Each style has its drawbacks and advantages – in committees with a dominant personality, the priorities of some stakeholders may be overlooked, and in a committee where everyone feels the need to agree, decisions may be delayed – so it’s important to understand what makes the committee tick and how to be productive without creating discord.

What should my steering committee focus on in meetings?

When it comes to what your committee should discuss when it meets, the answer will vary. In the life science industry, trial steering committees are very different from publication steering committees, which also differ from other types of physician steering committees. Whatever the task at hand, the focus of the meeting should always be making the most of members’ time and moving the project forward.

What’s the ideal cadence for steering committee meetings?

Typically, steering committees meet in a regular cadence, usually monthly or quarterly. These meetings have longer planning cycles and are heavily dependent on member schedules. Depending on the stakeholders, attendance may suffer due to their location, schedule, work and family commitments, or other factors. If team members are repeatedly missing meetings, this will compromise the effectiveness of the steering committee and potentially the project’s success.

Steering committees are a nearly ideal use case for asynchronous discussions – a virtual meeting format that allows participants to log in at their convenience over a period of days or weeks.

Using asynchronous meetings for increased efficiency

Asynchronous discussions aren’t subject to last-minute cancellations or other schedule issues and don’t require the expense and planning time of in-person meetings. At Within3, most clients experience nearly 100% participation in their asynchronous meetings, which has a remarkable impact on decision-making ability.

In an asynchronous environment, the steering committee structure can include time for reviewing resources as well as providing feedback. Follow-up questions from meeting moderators can help solve issues more quickly and tie up any loose ends right away, rather than waiting until the next meeting. And if an issue arises that needs immediate attention, it’s much easier to quickly convene an over-time meeting than real-time interaction.

Read a customer success story to learn more about how Within3 clients use asynchronous virtual engagement to streamline steering committee interactions, with better attendance and results.